If you’re writing a professional document, The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook offers you this counterintuitive but fascinating and helpful insight:
In tests of print-document legibility, serif fonts (like Times New Roman, fonts with decorative loops and strokes at the ends of letters) win over san-serif fonts (like Arial, with no decorative extra strokes). And they win big.
In fact, tests find that readers have five times greater comprehension of documents written in serif fonts.
The lesson: If you want to make your document easier to read and digest, use serif fonts.
Have you ever read a proposal, sales letter or email and thought, What am I supposed to do now?
Don’t assume that, after they’ve read your document, your readers will know what if any actions you want them to take. Include clear actions steps. Some examples:
- Please respond to this email with your thoughts on the new campaign.
- Send me a few specific times next week that work for you to have a follow-up chat.
- Please email Terry and ask her for an electronic copy of the report.
- Call me at (xxx) xxx-xxxx to discuss how our agencies can work together.
Don’t write or send email while you’re in a meeting.
People are talking. Your attention is fragmented. You’re rushing to compose your message so you don’t get called on before you’ve had a chance to tune back in to the discussion.
Not the best time to be crafting a work-related document — and remember, email is a work-related document — that will reflect on your professionalism and intelligence.
We spend our workdays with our fingers on a mouse, ready to click away from whatever we’re doing to get to the next task or obligation.
We’re rushed. We’re bombarded. We’re reading three things at once. Actually, we often don’t read at all — we skim. Quickly.
If your document or email is too wordy, if you take too long making your point, we’ll probably move on. Unfair, yes, but true.
What do these things have in common?
-A cell phone display showing 23 missed calls and 11 unopened voicemails.
-A computer screen showing a half-completed Word document, 10 open web-browser windows and an open instant-message chat.
-A computer monitor with 300 icons on the desktop, dozens of which are partially or completely covering other icons.
Answer: These are all examples of digital clutter.
And digital clutter is still clutter.
As the great organization and productivity guru David Allen tells us, clutter negatively affects our productivity, and for several reasons. First, a cluttered workspace simply makes it more difficult to work and to find the tools you need when you need them. Second, clutter creates stress, because we know we should be dealing with it and we’re not, and that saps our creative and productive energy.
Digital clutter, I’d argue, has a similar effect. If you look down at your cell phone and see that you’ve missed a half-dozen calls and now have six new voicemails — any or all of which could be important — your first instinct might be simply to avoid all of them and put your phone away and procrastinate for a few more minutes of peace.
Plus, as you listen to your first voicemail, some part of your brain will be processing “Five more voicemails! And they could all be important! Hurry up — get to them!” When you get to your second new voicemail, here comes your brain again: “Four to go! Hurry!” How stressful. How counterproductive. How awful.
Same thing happens when you fire up your computer monitor and see a desktop screen loaded with files, icons, programs and images — all in no particular order — and you’ve got to hunt down the thing you need to open. Even before you begin the task you sat down to accomplish, you’ve already put yourself at a disadvantage by giving your brain a glance at all the potential loose ends and unfinished business sitting on your computer.
And now as you begin your task, your brain begins processing a constant hum of stress — “Need to finish that email message;” “Don’t forget to review that graph slide;” “Where’s the screen grab I took for Stacey?” And that hum of stress will stay with you as long as you’re at your desk.
What to do?
Clear the digital clutter.
Writing an email message? Clear your desktop of all the other stuff you’re not working on at the moment. Make that email message fill the entire monitor — so your eyes can’t wander off and spot something else you should be doing.
To your productivity!
If you’re planning to attach a file to an email, don’t wait until you’ve completed drafting your message to grab the file. Attach it as soon as you refer to it in the message you’re writing.
This way, you won’t hit send, realize your mistake, and then have to draft that silly follow-up message: “Oops. This time with attachment. Haha!”
My writing business, Robbie Hyman Copywriting, is on a GSA schedule and offers writing services to federal agencies. I’ve been writing for the private sector for many years, and most of my clients need help with the same types of documents — websites, articles for publication, press releases and presentations.
In talking with federal employees, however, I’ve been unable to determine what types of writing a typical agency is most likely to need. Seems the federal workforce writes… everything! So I’d love your insights. What are the most common types of writing that come out of your agency?
Please send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much!